Year in, year out, the official WRC series has become a model of consistency. It doesn’t quite match the punishing accuracy of Codemasters’ Dirt Rally, but developer Kylotonn’s work has been undeniably more ambitious by every other measure. If you want a straight-up, no-frills rally simulator, head for Dirt Rally; if you want a rally experience that’s more forgiving but at least contains an actual career mode, dynamic weather and time and so forth, WRC is for you.
But every yearly franchise eventually hits its proverbial ceiling. We witnessed it earlier this year with F1 2021, a game that sacrificed year-over-year improvements to focus on a predictable, forgettable six-hour narrative. With WRC 10, the story isn’t too different.
Full disclosure: Publisher Nacon provided Jalopnik with a code for WRC 10 on PlayStation 5. It was tested with a DualSense controller.
That’s not to say this game is as much a carryover as F1 2021 was, at least in terms of content. WRC 10 brings four new rallies — Estonia, Croatia, and Spain, plus Belgium which is due to arrive in a November update. There are also 21 historic cars, ranging from the Alpine A110 that competed in the very first WRC season of 1973 to Sebastian Ogier’s 2016 Volkswagen Polo and Ott Tänak’s 2019 Toyota Yaris. Some were present in last year’s title, though most were not.
With those old cars comes an assortment of old stages, and likewise some of these have been carried over from previous installments as well. The retro stages are paired with select cars in the game’s WRC 50th Anniversary mode, where you’re tasked with reenacting critical moments of the sport’s history. I feel obligated to note here that the WRC’s 50th season technically won’t be held until 2022, so the inclusion of this mode seems a bit preemptive. What the hell, time’s all made up anyway.
On paper, that all sounds like a wealth of extra content. Unfortunately, it feels less impactful when you actually play the game, as many of the historic stages are identical to those in the present-day career mode, save for a slight increase to the number of spectators and their placement closer to the road. The gantries over starts and finishes and roadside spectator and service vehicles are also exchanged for more period-appropriate assets, which is nice. The atmosphere still feels barren, though, especially when you consider the throngs of people that used to attend these rallies. There are no packed hillsides in WRC 10, sadly.
These Anniversary events are also really freakin’ tough and their difficulty can’t be eased at all, which is especially surprising because Kylotonn’s historically done a great job of giving players the freedom to adjust that sort of thing in its career mode. Part of the increased challenge is down to the spectators, who crowd the roads much like they used to back in the ’90s and earlier. Unlike actual humans though, the fans in WRC 10 don’t use their legs under any circumstances and make zero effort to yield to you. What’s more, the game is very strict about resetting your vehicle and adding five seconds to your time if you so much as graze an area reserved for spectators.
Adjustable difficulty for the Anniversary mode seems like something that’s easy enough to patch in, so here’s hoping Kylotonn does. Still, that oversight speaks to so many of my issues with WRC 10. Glaring little missteps, glitches and faults abound that pervade the entire experience and they really ought to be gone after six years of releases.
For example, after winning the opening two rallies of the WRC3 season in my career, I received an in-game email from the team principal that I’d be let go if I didn’t shape up and perform better. I don’t know if I was actually on the chopping block or the game just screwed up and sent me the wrong message, but either way, that’s pretty messy.
I’ve been unable to swap to my spare tires before a stage start, a glitch not helped by the fact that the user interface for the menu in question is very poorly organized and under-explained. I’ve had trouble adjusting the perspective of the various camera views in the pause menu, because they appear completely different in gameplay from how they look as I’m tweaking the sliders.
The PS5's DualSense controller is a source of frustration, too. The adaptive triggers are designed to behave so that the throttle and brake dynamically dial in resistance and let out some slack based on car condition and grip levels. You get used to it — or, at least I did — though I assume some players would rather do without it. Unfortunately, you can’t turn this feature off within WRC 10, nor can you turn off the select snippets of car audio routed through the controller’s tinny speaker. You can disable them in system settings, but that means you’ll then have to switch them back on if you like those features in another game.
These aren’t deal-breaking flaws, and I could live with them if the game at least ran properly. Sadly, that hasn’t been my experience on PS5. No matter what stage I pick or what the weather’s like in game, screen tearing is omnipresent. That’s quite simply unforgivable for a cross-gen release on new hardware. I actually encountered the same problem during my time with WRC 10's Steam Next Fest beta, though I chalked that up to my PC’s hardware and the fact the game was still in development. To find it still mucking up the PS5 experience is really disappointing.
WRC 10 offers three performance settings on PS5 and Xbox Series X: a 30 frame-per-second Quality mode, a 60-fps Balanced mode and a high-refresh 120 Hz option for those who have TVs that support it. Mine doesn’t, so I stuck with Balanced. Dips in framerate aren’t quite as regular as the screen tearing but they still occur, and it’s not like the game looks any better graphically for those performance sins. On PS5, textures are immaculate and roadside foliage is plentiful, but there’s noticeable pop-in and the lighting is all wrong — almost like the game is devoid of contrast. HDR isn’t supported either, which I hadn’t even realized isn’t mandatory for PS5 titles.
If you’re looking for a legitimate next-gen rally experience, then, WRC 10 isn’t it. For that, I’d say wait until 2023, as sad as that is to admit.
As it happens, Kylotonn will forfeit the WRC license after next year’s game. Following that, Codemasters will inherit official WRC duties through 2027, adding to EA’s onslaught of annual sports properties. I have my reservations about Codies taking on yet another rally property, but at this point, it seems as though Kylotonn’s work is slowly winding down, and I’m not expecting big changes for WRC 11.
As for WRC 10, it’s a fine addition to the series, imperfect though it is. It’s also cheap for a new game: $50 from most retailers and as low as $40 on Amazon. But if you spent a lot of time with WRC 9, as I did, I wouldn’t rush out to cop this year’s rendition, unless you’re excited by more of the same.